If you’re going to try to run a fast road marathon, please take the next day off of work. Seriously. I say this from the fortress of comfort that is my bed, typing this up on Monday morning. Lucky for me, I’m on vacation this week so my only plans until next Monday are: eat a lot while laying on the couch and watching the track and field World Championships from Beijing.
I don’t plan on running a step until Saturday and the best thing about that is I couldn’t run right now if I tried. Even normal walking is hard, and the flight of stairs that leads outside is a very scary proposition right now.
People always ask me “is it worth it?” and without hesitation I answer “of course it is”. Before I started this journey, I spent the first 33 years of my life seeking as much comfort as possible, trying to avoid hardships and uncomfortable situations. Through running I’ve learned how to embrace the suck; I’ve been allowed to let myself be transformed into the person I always wanted to be but was way too afraid to step outside of.
Whenever I see someone running, I don’t think about what they’re running from, but rather what they’re running to.
And yes, the first few minutes after a race I’m cursing my very existence and thinking “never again”, but once that wears off and what I just did starts to sink in, the feeling can last and last. Yesterday was no exception, I thought “I never want to do this again, I need to get back on the trails…” but really, I just like to run.
So- race day: had an okay night’s sleep both Friday and Saturday, actually woke up really early Saturday morning at 5:45 to watch the men’s World Championship 10,000 meter final in Beijing, and considering how dominant Mo Farah has been recently I probably could’ve stayed in bed and already knew who was going to win it.
Left to drive up to Santa Rosa with my wife, at a leisurely pace- stopped in Petaluma to do some “antiquing”, eat lunch (turkey burger with fries and a shake, then checked into hotel at 4 pm and went for a swim in lieu of a shakeout run. I felt loose and good, I’m thinking if I can from now on go for a little swim instead of a pre-race shaker. Ate a delicious dinner of gnochetti and pesto followed by a little bowl of chocolate peanut butter gelato. Lucas and Sarah arrived about 9 pm, we all talked a little bit, then went to bed about 9:45.
Woke up at 3:30 am (about 4 minutes before my alarm, just shot right up wide awake and ready to go), made coffee, watched some World Championship races (I think men’s 800 meters heats). Left for downtown Santa Rosa about 5 am, got to the start about 5:15, did a quick shakeout jog with Lucas, lubed up heavily (Lucas is a taper so we got band-aids from the medical tent) then checked our bags, got into our corral (#1) and tried to stay loose and let the nerves flow out of me, then GO! Race starts at 6 am.
It was great running with Lucas, we were clicking off mile paces between 6:48 and 7:00 through the first 8 miles, trying to stay as close to 6:52 pace as we could- just chatting the whole time, it was unbelievable how comfortable that pace felt. Took a Gu at 30 minutes, ended up falling in with a group of guys that materialized around mile 6 and would basically run together for the next 13-14 miles.
We both stopped to pee at mile 8.5-ish, took a Gu, drank some water, got right back on pace- had my crew meet me at mile 13 so I could drink about 150 calories of Ucan, went through the half at 1:31:23, wanted to go through 1:29-1:30 but figured for every minute or so that I held back in the first half, I’d be buying myself a minute towards the end, and in a weird way with how good I felt I really did believe that I was holding a lot back.
Lucas stopped at mile 14 to check something with his foot, I yelled back to him “you’ll catch me…” but we never saw each other again. He ended up DNF’ing at mile 15.5 with it, same thing that was bothering him at SF Half a month earlier. I thought he’d just temporarily try to stretch something out or check on a blister but it turned out to be a bit more serious than first thought.
Things started to get a little hairy about 17-18, so I took another Gu right at the 2-hour mark, then hit mile 20.2 timing mat at 2:21:31- I wanted to be closer to 2:15 because if I wanted to go sub-3 that last 10k would have to be about 45 minutes. My crew fed me more Ucan right here and said they’d see me at the finish- Carl actually ran a good probably quarter of a mile with me, telling me I looked strong, that felt great. I was still trying to maintain pace; was able to hit a 6:59 and a 7:06 for miles 20 & 21, then a 7-flat at 22, then the wall comes.
It’s not so much a wall as it feels more like trying to give a 600 pound gorilla a piggy back ride. So here’s this massive slow down coming, a 7:20, a 7:45, and then an 8:02 bringing me up to mile 25. Add some minor cramping to the mix, and that bothersome Achilles issue (was wondering when that would show up) and now I’m deep in the pain cave.
Now all I could do was bite my lower lip, focus on the “now” and just try to hold on, a 7:56 for mile 25 (at 2:56 elapsed, thinking it’s gonna be close to that 3:08-ish I need for the BQ), it literally felt like running an all-out vo2 max mile repeat, I gave it everything I had; I’m sure my heart rate at this point was up around 170, my effort was way higher than my pace here.
Also, at this point I was trying to think a lot about things that inspire me, and as I jumbled my thoughts around, thinking of stuff like Steve Prefontaine quotes, all those Thursday nights up in the Redwoods logging headlamp miles with my running bros and most importantly my beautiful and supportive 34-week pregnant wife.
I also had to laugh, remembering that I paid someone for the pleasure of hurting like this. The best thing about the end of a marathon is the people cheering you on- I couldn’t make out anyone’s face right now but they all looked so genuinely happy and the noise helped to alleviate some of the hurt.
I also thought of one of the message boards I frequent to both give and get for support, I thought about all my peeps on the Strava, all the advice I’ve asked friends for and all the folks hat have hit me up for help training for their first 5k or half marathon; I felt like I was really a part of something bigger, like a cog in the gears of the machinery of life, with running at the center.
Here comes mile 26 and the cramping has gotten so much worse, calves, quads, groin (that’s the worst type of cramp) slowed to about an 8:15 pace momentarily, kept thinking, “no no no just hold on” with the idea that I was not allowed at any point to go above 8-minute pace during the race.
Then I turned a corner, saw my people cheering me on and got a huge boost. Then seeing the finish chute and go into an all out sprint- which was like 7:30 pace but felt like sub 5-minute pace.
So, managed to hold on at the end for that Boston Qualifier- ran a 3:07:01, minus-2:59 under the 3:10 standard. I finished 85th overall, 78th men’s division and 7th in the men’s 35-39 age group.
It’s finally started to sink in after all the Facebook messages, Strava love and texts, I can go run Boston.
Here’s the kicker though; I’m going to register in September but I’m only 50-50 on if I can do it- as far as next year’s races are concerned, everything hinges on the Western States lottery.
I hate to have to choose between Boston and WS100, but I’ve been trying to get in States for four years now and that race takes precedent over Boston, for me.
When people say “do both” it comes down to 1) the financial demand of both races 2) the demands of time- I’ve got a newborn on the way so just training for one or more races next year will be a challenge.
I also have to weigh how hard it is to get into WS versus how hard it is to get into Boston, and just on that alone I’d have to go with The Big Dance over The Most Famous Marathon in the Known Universe.
So, after a full week has gone by as I try to get this report done I’m left with the idea that I feel like more of a complete runner now, like I joined a new tribe that’s a sub-set of an even bigger tribe.I tried to hold on to that “hey bro I only run trails” but after this year and going back and doing shorter stuff, road races, et. al. I feel as though I have a better understanding of as well as an appreciation for all kinds of running.
I guess another thing I’ve been thinking is that for me it’s more about getting the BQ than it is about actually running Boston. I think I wanted to prove to myself that I could do a around of intense road marathon training, get faster and give it everything I had and really learn to love the road.
I think I accomplished that.